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The old Baobab of Mahajanga

Mahajanga (formerly French Majunga) is the capital of the province of the same name in northwestern Madagascar and with more than 250,000 inhabitants one of the largest cities in Madagascar. It is located directly at the entrance of Bombetoka Bay.

The oldest Baobab in Madagascar stands directly on the coast, just a few metres from the water. Legend has it that the mighty tree with its broad crown is over 1000 years old. Most people of Mahajanga assume it to be 700 or 800, but the age has not yet been scientifically investigated. There are also said to be older Baobabs in the area, so that the famous Baobab Mahajanga is probably “only” the thickest Madagascar. For centuries the huge tree has been the symbol of the whole city. In 1898, an official measurement of the circumference revealed a good 14 m, which can still be found in many travel guides today. In fact, the Baobab already measured almost 21 m in circumference in 2013 and is still growing very slowly.

The ancient Baobab belongs to the species Adansonia digitata, a species that also occurs in the rest of Africa, and has long since become the landmark of the whole city. Already in earlier times it was something special and was used as a place for announcing important news and as a meeting place. In the 19th century, the tree became rather sadly famous because its immediate surroundings were used as a place of execution. The strokes carved into the bark still bear witness to this time.

According to tradition, anyone who visits the old and venerable tree must walk around the Baobab seven times. It honours the ancestors who play an important role in the Malagasy faith throughout the island and the traveller receives their blessing. Another legend says that a valuable treasure is buried deep between the roots of the mighty tree, which former kings of the Sakalava hid there. The Fady (taboo, sacred) of the Baobab, however, forbids any treasure hunt.

Today, the old Baobab is fenced in at the end of Avenue de France in the middle of a traffic junction. The lower bark area is painted with white paint to protect against pests, the surroundings of the tree are concreted. A few years ago, some branches had to be cut after a truck hit them. If trees could speak…what would this ancient giant tell us?

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